Anyone who knows me is well aware of my love and devotion to all things Apple. I’ve always felt that Apple’s hardware superiority and operating system stability were unparalleled in the tech world. But for the past week, I’ve had the opportunity to take an Android smartphone for a test run. The Samsung Galaxy S4 Active is chock-full of cool features and extras, but is it all style and no substance?
The first thing I noticed about the S4 is that size does matter. The crystal-clear 5-inch screen definitely makes for a better viewing experience whether you’re checking emails or watching movies, but I don’t know if it’s necessarily the best thing for making phone calls. I noticed that my ear was opening apps and activating the Google voice search option on the home screen while I was trying to chat. There is a tab on the left side of the display that has a quick-access menu which I found convenient, but finding a good place on the screen for the tab so it doesn’t get in the way is a bit of a task. The overall design of the phone is supposed to “withstand an adventurous and busy lifestyle,” so the screen is made of scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass and the phone itself has a more rugged style that feels more substantial than the original model without being too bulky.
The S4 Active runs the Android 4.2 Jelly Bean operating system, and I can’t say that I’ve had many problems with bugginess so far. Pages load smoothly with the OS and super-fast with 4G LTE service. I thought some of the apps I downloaded were a bit crash-prone, but that could be a developer issue as opposed to a real problem with the operating system. Some features I thought were pretty cool include NFC, which allows you to pay for things by moving your phone near a sensor in a store, and screen mirroring, where you can share your phone’s screen with another S4. However, there were other features that I could appreciate but didn’t quite see why they’d be useful. Air View allows you to view helpful information, such as a preview of an email message or speed dial contacts, just by hovering your finger over the screen. Some other features seemed like good ideas on paper, but not so much in real life. I may be in the minority on this, but I’m not a big fan of Swype, the ability to change the keyboard into something that allows you to trace out words instead of typing them. I also wasn’t impressed by any of the Air Gesture options and I feel like Samsung still has some work to do with this element.
But let’s get to the real point of this review: the Galaxy S4 Active is supposed to be water-resistant to a depth of one meter for up to 30 minutes. You can also put the camera into Aqua mode to take pictures with an 8-megapixel camera or shoot video underwater as well. I have to admit I was very nervous to test this feature, but my fears were quickly put to rest because it worked! I don’t know how comfortable I’d be taking this device to the pool and making a day of it, but it’s good to know that I won’t have to go broke replacing my phone if it happens to fall into the toilet.
Overall, I thought the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active was a sturdy smartphone that’s loaded with extras. I’m still a huge evangelist for the ease of use and intuitiveness of Apple’s iOS, something that continues to elude Android operating systems in my opinion. However, if you’re an Android fan looking for an upgrade, this smartphone should be at the top of your list.
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